Bureau of Reclamation Will Cut American River Flows to 500 cfs

By Dan Bacher | March 23, 2015 | (Sacramento) This year was the worst ever for steelhead returns to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery on the Am...


By Dan Bacher | March 23, 2015 |

(Sacramento) This year was the worst ever for steelhead returns to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery on the American River – and things aren’t getting any better with a planned drop in flows on the river to 500 cubic feet per second (cfs.). That means low, warm flows for steelhead and king salmon through the spring and summer unless we receive some late March or April storms to fill the reservoirs in the watershed.

The Bureau of Reclamation will ramp down flows on the American below Nimbus Dam from 800 cfs on March 24 to 500 cfs on March 26. Randi Field of the Bureau said the reason for the reduction in flows is “storage conservation.”

Wilbert Louis Moore, Deputy Public Affairs Officer of the Bureau of Reclamation, today released the following statement, in response to a request by Felix Smith, retired US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and Save the American River Association board member, and myself for more information about the rationale behind the Bureau's cut in releases:

"On Thursday, March 19, The Bureau of Reclamation held its monthly American River Group meeting. This group includes stakeholder members from federal, state and local government and environmental agencies who discuss information on the operations of the American River. The group provides updates from the various stakeholder perspectives and offer operational alternatives for flows and temperature management in the river.

This month's talk covered flow changes, temperature management and shutter management. Reclamation considers the information provided and uses it to make informed decisions on which options to implement. Due to the persistent drought conditions, conservation of water is a must.

This flow reduction is also being complemented with real-time temperature management to protect fish habitat. Should conditions improve, Reclamation will make the appropriate adjustments to provide as much water as possible while at the same time working to manage for all other important requirements related to water use, including human health and Safety and Delta Salinity requirements."

The fish hatchery staff has trapped only 143 adult steelhead, including 93 females and 45 males, to date, according to Gary Novak, hatchery manager. That compares to a total of 546 adult steelhead, including 527 adults and 19 half pounders, last season.

The hatchery has taken a total of 186,488 eggs so far. With some additional eggs that they received from Coleman Fish Hatchery, they plan to release 144,000 steelhead yearlings next February on the American.

Novak plans to keep the fish ladder open until the end of March, hoping that some additional fish come into the facility.

The poor steelhead returns this year are believed to be the result of the poor management of Folsom Reservoir by the Bureau of Reclamation during the drought. By January 2014, the Bureau emptied Folsom Reservoir on the American River to only 17 percent of capacity, the lowest level in history. The federal water agency shipped the water to corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, Southern California water agencies and oil companies conducting fracking and steam injection operations, in spite of 2013 being a record drought year.

The result was low, warm conditions in the American, inevitably leading to poor survival of adult and juvenile steelhead as the cold water pool in Folsom was drawn down.

For more information on the temperature and water flow requirements for steelhead and salmon on the American River and be viewed at the FishSniffer

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